Celtics

Why Jayson Tatum wore Kobe Bryant’s jersey this offseason (and why Celtics vs. Lakers is special)

"I kind of felt like a kid in that moment."

Jayson Tatum, LeBron James
Boston Celtics' Jayson Tatum defends against Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James. AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Earlier this summer, Jayson Tatum raised eyebrows for Celtics fans when he wore Kobe Bryant’s Lakers jersey in a photoshoot for the NBA’s 75th season.

The photoshoot was part of a recreation of Bryant’s buzzer-beater over Dwyane Wade and the Heat in 2009. Tatum — who grew up a huge fan of Bryant — went through the motions of the shot, with cameras snapping photos.

Celtics fans, of course, were concerned to see Tatum in a Lakers jersey. So when Tatum was asked if wearing Bryant’s jersey was “weird” after the Celtics’ game against the Hawks on Wednesday, he gave the media a look as he answered.

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“Obviously everybody knows I loved the Lakers back then,” Tatum emphasized, glancing up briefly with a small smile. “Not the case now.

“But I kind of felt like a kid in that moment. Because that’s what I used to do. I used to wear that jersey and run around the house and try to be like him.”

Clearly, recreating that moment meant quite a bit to Tatum, whatever reservations Celtics fans may have had seeing him in their rivals’ jersey. He said he watched Bryant’s buzzer-beater in an Applebees with his older cousin — a Dwyane Wade fan — and he raced around the restaurant celebrating when Bryant’s shot banked in.

The history between Tatum’s favorite team as a child and the team that currently employs him makes the matchup — which takes place for the first time this season on Friday — special for him.

“Everyone knows the history between the two franchises, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of that going on five years now,” Tatum said. “And I obviously understand who they have on their team — especially in somebody like LeBron [James], that is one of the best to play this game — so obviously as a kid those are the matchups that you dreamed about and you don’t take for granted when you get the opportunity.

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“As a competitor, you love games and you love moments like that.”

Celtics-Lakers tips off at 7:30 p.m. in front of a national audience on ESPN as well as locally on NBC Sports Boston.

Here are three things to watch.

1. James has played in just six of the Lakers’ 15 games so far — most recently out due to an abdominal injury. He is expected to return against the Celtics, however. James, as usual, is averaging nearly 25 points, 5.5 rebounds, and seven assists per game when he plays.

The Celtics, meanwhile, will hope to get Jaylen Brown and Robert Williams back. Brown is still dealing with a sore hamstring, while Williams experienced knee pain on the Celtics’ road trip.

2. The Celtics use “expected points” as a metric, according to the Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach — a way of optimizing possessions.

That can be a dangerous game to play, however — a fact emphasized against the Lakers. Per Cleaning the Glass, the Celtics should be either 8-7 or 9-6 based on their net rating and should be on track for a 45-win season. Instead, the Celtics are 7-8 and on track for 38 wins based on their winning percentage.

The Lakers, who have lost two games in a row, are nearly a perfect inverse: Based on their net rating, they should be 5-11 or 6-10 and on track for 27 wins. Instead, they are 8-7 and on track for 41 wins.

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In other words: The veteran-heavy Lakers have won some games unexpectedly. The Celtics have lost some they should have won.

It’s early still, so those numbers can change quickly. But we should note that the season is in its late 20s — young, certainly, but not as young as it used to be — and the Celtics’ net rating, differential, and expected wins are all nearly exactly the same as last year.

3. The Lakers have gotten a nice boost in their last three games from Talen Horton-Tucker — a third-year guard averaging 23.3 points per game in his first three contests. Horton-Tucker was a second-round pick in the 2019 draft, and after playing 65 games last year, he appears ready to contribute more this year as a member of the starting lineup with James, Anthony Davis, Carmelo Anthony, and Russell Westbrook.

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